Secret Empire has lost some of its early momentum in recent installments. Issue #4 in particular served as a weird diversion for the series. There, writer Nick Spencer spotlighted Ultron in an issue that read like a pleasant diversion than a crucial chapter of the main story. But luckily, the series manages to right itself as it reaches the halfway mark. Secret Empire #5 succeeds on a winning combination of strong character work, dramatic plot twists and solid artwork.
The hunt for the Cosmic Cube fragments continues to be the catalyst propelling this conflict along. One of the reasons this issue works as well as it does is that Spencer doesn’t treat the quest itself as the end-all, be-all of the story. In one particularly self-aware moment, Spencer even has one of his characters refer to the fragments as a “MacGuffin.” The point is more to use the increasingly hopeless and futile nature of that quest to explore the toll this conflict is taking on the Avengers. It’s not just the scope of Secret Empire that sets this series apart from many recent Marvel events, but the sense that it actually is having a deep, lasting impact on our heroes. And not for the first time, the series begs the question of whether the eventual fallout, not the conflict itself, is truly the most compelling element of Secret Empire.